What Is the Connection between Perception and Attribution?

Lily Ruha

Perception and attribution are closely linked because perception involves processing information about the self or other people, and attribution involves identifying the cause of behavior. Understanding the connection between the two is significant for social relationships. Individual perception biases affect the way that people perceive themselves and one another. Inaccurate personal assessments might be made through faulty perception or attribution. Understanding the psychology of perception also is important for relating to groups of people who are of a different culture, race, economic status or age group.

The perception that people are talking behind a person's back can cause self-esteem issues.
The perception that people are talking behind a person's back can cause self-esteem issues.

The connection between perception and attribution was explored in a social psychology experiment in a psychiatric facility. Study participants who were devoid of psychiatric conditions presented themselves to a facility with the false claim of hearing voices. Practitioners took their case histories which, with the exception of the false claim, were normal and reported accurately. Although the patients behaved normally while at the facility, they still were discharged with the label of schizophrenics in recovery. Upon learning about the experiment, practitioners received another opportunity to be accurate in their assessments, and the results showed repeated diagnostic inaccuracies.

Perception and attribution play a key role in understanding the dynamics of a group.
Perception and attribution play a key role in understanding the dynamics of a group.

Inaccurate perception and attribution might lead to inaccurate diagnoses, hiring mistakes or racial profiling. Perception occurs when a specific behavior is observed, such as when a job applicant arrives late for his or her interview. Upon perceiving this behavior, an interviewer might immediately attribute the act to irresponsibility based on general beliefs about how people should act for a job interview, such as arriving on time or early. Without engaging in a discussion with the applicant about the tardiness, the interviewer might not learn the real cause of the tardiness, which could have a highway traffic jam because of a bad accident.

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The connection between perception and attribution also has been observed in the ways that people view and assess themselves. A personal success, such as a high score on an exam, might be attributed to personal intelligence or a skilled teacher. People who always attribute their accomplishments to their own efforts and their failures to external factors might experience problems in social relationships. Also challenging is the reverse scenario in which a person never attributes an achievement to personal effort, potentially resulting in low self-esteem.

The analysis of perception and attribution biases often takes place with regard to the courtroom. A potential juror who has negative biases associated with people of a specific race, age group or sexual orientation might automatically assign negative connotations to their actions. Conversely, a person who tends to focus on outside factors — such as discrimination or unfair laws — as the cause of bad behavior in all instances also might be eliminated from jury selection because of a lack of objectivity.

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Discussion Comments


@SarahGen-- Although I'm not an expert on this subject, I believe that we can change the way we see and understand things.

There is no doubt a close connection between perception and attribution an in individuals who don't consider all of the data before forming attribution, inaccurate attributions are likely. So change is possible by becoming more open-minded and observant.

We have to also realize that our attributions are not the truth but rather just theories we have formed based upon our perceptions and worldview. So our ideas should be changeable. When we come across new information that shows that our attribution is wrong, we should be able to change it.


@turquoise-- That's very interesting. You say that we do this without even realizing. Can we not change it then? Can't we teach our brains to perceive and attribute things differently and accurately? Or are we stuck in this process?


I think inaccurate perception and attribution also occurs because people jump to conclusions without considering all of the facts. This is a common issue that most people experience but are not even aware of.

As the article said, because of our biases, we tend to ignore information that is not convenient. For example, if we have a bias in which we believe that people with expensive purses are rude, even if we saw other information showing the opposite, we would probably ignore it. Our brains like to reinforce ideas and beliefs and it mostly does that by perception selection and biased attribution.

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